Chief Dave Umahi is the governor of Ebonyi State and chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum. In this interview, he speaks on his six years in office, security challenges in the state and the South-East geopolitical zone, among other issues. UCHENNA INYA reports
Your administration is six years, what is your impression about it?
We are six years in office as the third executive administration in Ebonyi State and we are deeply grateful to God almighty for giving us the grace to navigate affairs of the state. This six years has been quite very challenging, I don’t know whether we had two or three recessions, we had all kinds of disturbances, the devaluation of the naira and turbulent economy. But in all these things, God has been very faithful to us, where people failed, we have excelled and each time we face challenges, God has never left us.
So, we are deeply grateful to God almighty. At a time that we remember our modest achievements as a state, we must thank the late General Sani Abacha, who saw the reason to liberate Ebonyi people from the bondage of slavery and created Ebonyi State. For this, we remain grateful to him and we continue to pray that God will judge him fairly. I have said before now that we have to set a date when we can call the family of Sani Abacha to honour him becaue we are deeply indebted to him.
We also thank all the founding fathers who are still alive and all those who have joined our ancestors and we continue to remind Ebonyi people that the spirit of the founding fathers and the spirit upon which they fought was devoid of selfishness. They foresaw the level of slavery that we were experiencing and they set aside their differences and put the interest of Ebonyi State ahead of all of us. They kept saying each time they were reminded that we may not have economic viabilities, that whatever that is given to us, we will continue to manage it.
As a government, we are living to that spirit and my prayer is that that the same spirit should not depart from our people because it is the spirit that created this state and it is that spirit upon which we shall excel as we continue on our journey to excellence. So, we thank our founding fathers; those who are alive and those who have departed. Without them, we will not be celebrating this six years anniversary.
How would you describe the journey in the last six years?
I will say that the journey so far is a journey of grace, a journey of mercy, a journey of miracles. I can beat my chest with gratitude to God almighty to say that the dreams of our founding fathers have been substantially realized. We may not give our scorecard; we will do that when we roll out our drums to celebrate. We will not be celebrating because we cannot be vomiting and be kissing at the same time.
My preoccupation now is how to secure Ebonyi State and to ensure that the state does not go back to slavery. That’s what preoccupies our minds as a government. I believe God will soon answer our prayers for us to have peace and understanding to substantially liberate those who have been brainwashed to put themselves forward to be killed and to kill our people and to destroy our basic infrastructure. So, we are postponing our anniversary celebration to November.
What are the things your administration has been able to do within these six years?
We will not be able to start saying what we have done and what we are yet to do but significant among things that we have done is the new University of Medical Sciences in Ohaozara Local Government Area, which has been passed by the House of Assembly and signed into law and this we are very grateful to God. The university is not going to be a cheap university.
It is going to be a very high profile university that will compete with any university anywhere in the world and we are projecting that the total income from the university at the end of the first two years would be about an average of N30 billion per annum. So, the university will be able to sustain itself and sustain other higher intuitions in the state. Finishing touches are ongoing at the university and we are also trudging very highly at the International Airport.
Why an airport in the state?
Some of our brothers in the South- East have argued why should Ebonyi State have an international airport but that is the mind of those who don’t love us, they want us to go into second slavery but this has become the Nazareth not just of the South-East but of the entire country. Who is he that speaketh when God has not spoken? God has spoken that this is the Nazareth of this nation and no man can stop it. Funny enough, we are going to have the longest and widest runway in this country, and we are pushing ahead.
What other projects is your administration handling or has handled?
The dualization of Abakaliki to Enugu and Abakaliki to Afikpo is also on advanced stages, and these two projects, we intend to complete them before we bow out of office. The moment you enter Ebonyi State from any part of neighbouring states, you have dualized roads and you have light and this is important to us. We have successfully completed phase one of the processes of the famous Abakaliki Ring road and we must first thank His Excellency, Jim Nwobodo, who first articulated this and constructed the road, though on earth because of paucity of fund at that time, and of course, Chief Martin Elechi who also worked assiduously in the maintenance of the road. Today, the entire road is gone but by the grace of God and the assistance of Mr. President; if he is bad to other people, he is good to Ebonyi State and we are not afraid to say it. The President has helped Ebonyi State tremendously, and my Bible tells me that he who will pay evil for the good done unto him; evil will not depart from his household.
So, ‘Mr. President we are grateful as Ebonyi people because your assistance and the assistance you gave to other governors is what has liberated Ebonyi State and put us in an irreversible gear that we will never go back to second slavery.’
We are happy for this ring road; it is a total of 199 kilometres. Ebonyi State government has constructed part of that as 25 per cent required equity and so the phase one has started because we have signed the contract for the project. By the time we complete it, Abakaliki Zone in particular and Ebonyi State, in general, will never remain the same. I have flagged off the intervention projects totaling about 10km in Ozzizza and Mater roads, Oriuzo to the Airport road and Mgbo to Okwo market road, these are promises made in the campaign of 2015.
It is not an easy thing, it is not convenient for us but through God’s mercies and grace, we must keep our promises, this we must do. The mall, which is the beauty of the state, is in its completion stage. It is a beauty to behold and we are proud to have a mall like that. It is a microcosm of the macrocosm of Dubai mall and no one can contest that.
Our flyovers are going on, the average construction period of our flyovers with grade 40 concrete remains nine to 12 months. The two last flyovers we shall be doing are one in Afikpo and one by Ogbe Hausa junction and all the ongoing projects and the Edda flyover are all on the verge of completion. The Edda flyover that defied the courage of many men is 70 per cent done and we will complete it before the end of this year.
There is rising insecurity in South-East, which Ebonyi is also experiencing. What are you doing to tackle it?
On the issue of security, we have meted ourselves with a very dangerous trend but I will continue to plead to our people and our politicians to rise to the challenges because this is a monster that will do nobody any good. Anybody who will rise and say that external forces are destroying South-East is deceiving himself because we know who is destroying the zone, it is South- East that is killing South-East.
I have continued to tell the security agencies to be mindful of utterances of politicians. It is their utterances that is fueling these crises. When you go to the social media, you will see all these people, and they are the people, who are instigating the bandits to kill the security people. Some of them even have security protection and this is absurd.
This issue that somebody would take a phone and begin to dish out fake information that can destroy a nation should be checked and should be confronted. I think that what is important now is for all hands to be on deck and to fight this monster of insecurity, what is needed at a time like this is patriotism. Ebube Agu has been signed into law, for those who are afraid of Ebube Agu, it is not after any politician or tribe, it is to assist the security agencies to maintain law and order. It is legal and it has come to stay; only the guilty are afraid.
You have dissolved state executive council; what led to the dissolution?
Only few days in exco, we had to do two sets of dissolution of the exco, the first set has taken place, the second one will still take place but the first is in place. We dissolved the exco because we have been getting reports of some members, who want to contest elections in 2023, so we had to dissolve to allow those who want to contest elections have enough time; about a year and six months to contest elections. We have a population of about four million and both the elected and appointed are about 4,000 which is about 0.1 per cent of the population.
If anybody believes that I am governor just to take care of these 4,000 people, that person is just wasting your time, because if I don’t build hospitals, if I don’t build roads, if I don’t build schools, then we are wasting our time.
The education of our people, the welfare of our people is also very important. Remember that we have over 30,000 civil servants; we also have to look after of them. So, for those who have the benefit of having brand new vehicles, having lands allocated to them at the Centenary City, having salaries every month, having one form of favour or the other and they are complaining, let those who have sympathy for opposition to be able to join opposition but we have 3,000 businesses waiting for Ebonyians.
What of your other 1,000 aides designated as EAs, STAs, TAs among others; are you also dissolving them?
To the rest in the boards and commissions; we also noticed the same thing, that there are people warming up for our local government elections next year. We noticed that some TAs, STAs, EAs, Liaison officers, Advisory Committee Members will also want to contest, so accordingly, all the Liaison officers, TAs, STAs, EAs, Advisory Committee, Management Committee Members are hereby dissolved.
The only commissions and boards that are not dissolved are State Civil Service Commission, Local Government Service Commission, House of Assembly Service Commission, Ebonyi State Independent Electoral Commission and Judiciary Service Commission. Apart from these boards and commissions, every other commission and board are hereby dissolved. We will reconstitute these boards and management committees, when we know those want to contest elections and those who will weather the storm with me.
Those who are not interested in contesting elections will now come back, so that we can now focus on governance, while they focus on politics. For the avoidance of doubt, Local Government Advisory Committee stand dissolved, EAs, STAs, TAs dissolved, all Liaison officers dissolved, Management Committee Members dissolved, Secondary Education Board dissolved, Universal Basic Education Board dissolved, Ebonyi State Community and Social Development Agency dissolved, and other boards like State Agricultural Land Development Board and every other commission and board that I didn’t remember. We also put before these ones that have been dissolved, permanent jobs of 3,000 civil service jobs. So, if you don’t make it back and you are still of the working-age, we will give you a permanent job, we have approved that we are going to employ 3,000 civil servants, 3,000 SMEs that are also there and the employment that will happen at the International Airport, the College of Medicine, the mall, International Market and of course in the ring road. So, if you are not good in politics, you will be good in business. If you are not good in business, you will be good in civil service job.
The dissolution is a winwin for Ebonyi State, so that you don’t do two things at the same time. Everyone that has worked with me; be it in the judiciary, the House of Assembly, the exco or civil service since 2015 will be given handsome empowerment before I bow out of office.
It will enable them to start meaningful businesses. We will be approaching the House of Assembly for massive empowerment next year. Our budget is going to constitute the same about 45 per cent recurrent. Empowerment will take about 30 per cent and 15 per cent will be for capital projects. It is the 7th year; that is the year of rest for me and I will be supporting all those who want to go into politics. So, I want to thank chairmen of the local government areas; they have done extremely well, they have made the people they are governing to know that the economy is tough and bad, but nobody takes one kobo from their money; their money goes straight to the respective local governments.
What is your reaction to the petition against you by former Chairman of Afikpo North Local Government Area of the state before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commision (EFCC)?
The former chairman was complaining, every month, Afikpo North is on negative, they cannot meet up their obligation and that was why he stole N50 million from the bank in the name of borrowing without the approval of the House of Assembly and the governor. He took the money and embezzled it and that is why he is running helter-skelter, the Fiscal Responsibility Commission has to catch up with him and he has to be moved to the EFCC, he must vomit the money. So, I have to thank the chairmen and coordinators and the EAs and STAs, some of them are just fantastically wonderful. For some of them who are wonderful and committed, I am sure that the possibility of their coming back is over 95 per cent. They should continue to support the government. By November, we will roll out our drums and we will celebrate but in all, I am grateful to all of them for their loyalty, for their support, for their love, for their sacrifices and determination. Ebonyi State must be great, this is what God told us and we are deeply very grateful to God. I am pleased to announce that the supplementary appropriation bill has been passed by the House of Assembly and signed into law. The Public Procurement Bill has also been signed into law as well as the amended law of Ebonyi State University (EBSU).
What is your plan for the state university?
I am going to reposition the university before I bow out. I will take that university to an international standard. I have started with the solar lights and generators and water there. In all the campuses of Ebonyi State University and tertiary institutions in the state, we have electricity and water supply for 24 hours. We have started internal concrete roads for EBSU and we will not stop until we conclude all the internal roads. After that, we go into sporting activities and visitation panel, we will take the quality of teaching and learning to the highest standard in this country and you know when we say we will do, through God that strengthens us, we have always done.